European Western Balkans

Dunja Mijatovic (OSCE): Western Balkans still has not overcome the legacy of the previous system – control over media

European Western Balkans presents you a short interview with Ms Dunja Mijatović (@OSCE_RFoM), OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. She is an expert on media law and media regulation. In March 2013 she was reappointed for a second three-year term as the Representative. Mijatović is a graduate of the University of Sarajevo, the University of Bologna and the London School of Economics.

European Western Balkans: Dear Ms. Mijatović, thank you for your time for this interview. For the start, what are the main press freedom problems today in OSCE member states? And what are in the Western Balkans?

Dunja Mijatović: The two major media freedom challenges in the OSCE region are the increasing number of attacks on journalists and the attempts to filter and block access to the Internet. Even though the scale of problems differs between regions, journalists’ safety and Internet freedom remain the core issues.

The main problem that prevails across the Western Balkans is that the region still has not overcome the legacy of the previous system. With this, I mean a control over media.

There are many issues I am constantly raising, from threats and attacks; impunity; editorial and financial independence of public service broadcasters and their regulators; implementation of media laws; to transparency of media ownership and funding.

There are some positive steps, and my Office tries to engage in many ways. For instance, my Office helped establish the first Press Council in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and we are currently working on a Code of Ethics with key media members in Montenegro. I am also aware that there are efforts to formalise a network of self-regulatory bodies in Southeast Europe led by the Council of Europe, which I think could significantly improve the quality of journalism and solidarity among journalists in the region. I look forward to seeing its realisation.

Another positive development has been the formation of independent commissions supervising the investigations of murdered journalists. Still, this in no way can replace the responsibility of state institutions and the much needed political will and efforts to bring the killers and masterminds of these horrendous attacks on the media to justice. Journalists’ safety will always be the priority of my Office; and unfortunately, the Western Balkans are not immune from incidents of harassment, intimidation, and even violent attacks against journalists or their property.

EWB: How can OSCE and your office of Freedom of Media help journalists who have problems, especially if journalists are arrested by a state authority?

DM: My office is tasked to monitor media freedom developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. We assume an early-warning function on media freedom violations in the OSCE region and intervene on breaches of the OSCE commitments with regards to free media and free speech, like attacks and imprisonment of journalists.

In cases of imprisonment of journalists for what they say or write, my office raises these cases directly with the participating States. Voicing our concern about these cases, also with public statements, raises awareness and puts international pressure on the authorities to honor their international commitments on free speech and free media. This is one tool of many we use to help journalists deprived of their freedom.

EWB: At the end, what is the future of media in Europe after recent terrorist attacks?

The attack on the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo was an unprecedented attack on free speech and free media and I think we will be dealing with the fallouts from this horrific attack for quite some time.

The future of media depends on many different factors and it is not my role to try to predict it. Despite the emotional impact that the events in Paris may have had in journalists and media professionals around Europe and the rest of the world, I believe that the best reaction should be to continue exercising the right to freedom of expression without any form of constraint or self-censorship.

Governments should also facilitate the conditions for a pluralistic speech and media environment as well as adopt measures aimed at enriching discussions and influencing emotions in order to avoid all forms of aggression.

Authors: Nemanja Todorović Štiplija and Nikola S. Ristić

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